Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Drug use and professional wrestling

Two performers in World Wrestling Entertainment have been arrested for possession of marijuana, drug paraphernalia and prescription pain medicine. Robert Alex Szatowski, who plays the "Rob Van Dam" character, was ordered to lose both his ECW and WWE "world heavyweight championships" and was then suspended by WWE for thirty days. (See articles in the Ironton Tribune here, here and here.)

It is no secret that Szatowski/RVD is fond of marijuana: he appeared in an issue of "High Times" several years ago. Given the rather messy drug charges that have been floating around WWE (previously known as the World Wrestling Federation) for two decades now, WWE took a gamble by making Szatowski/RVD the top name in the company by giving him both the WWE championship and the championship of the newly-launched ECW. WWE was the subject of a federal investigation for alleged steroid use in the 1990's.

The death of WWE performer (and former "world champion") Eddie Guerrero last November put an increased spotlight on drug use in WWE. While Guerrero had been clean for a couple years before his death, past drug use had damaged his heart and contributed to the heart disease that caused his death at 38 years old. The Galveston Daily News reports that WWE introduced a more strict anti-drug policy "more than six months ago", probably influenced by Guerrero's passing.

Szatowski/RVD was given an opportunity to be the top name in wrestling by holding the championships of two WWE "brands", and wasted that opportunity by not staying clean. Given his position, and WWE's previous drug problems, it was especially important for Szatowski/RVD to stay away from drugs. Many wrestling fans have long hoped WWE would give Szatowski/RVD a bigger, more prominent role in the company, but it would not be surprising to see him kept out of featured storylines and matches until he proves that he is reliable.

The powers that be in WWE could help their case by not taking Szatowski/RVD's "stoner" reputation lightly. When RVD made his debut during the "InVasion" storyline in 2001, a color commentator joked that "nobody gets higher than Rob Van Dam" when Szatowski/RVD performed a move off the top rope. If WWE is serious about their new anti-drug policy, they will need to avoid winking and nodding at Szatowski/RVD's reputation on their television programs. If drug use among professional wrestlers is a serious issue, it will be a serious issue even if WWE employees are not caught in the act by law enforcement.